Thursday, November 5, 2009

Bull Sacrifice

It is not often that the people of the Raij Ialong get the opportunity to celebrate the festival of paying obeisance to ‘lei Sohpetbneng, the last one was celebrated in 2007 after a gap of 20 years. People of Ialong village performed bull sacrifice to propitiate the deity U lei Sohpetbneng at Ialong Sacred Groves, Jowai on September 22, 2007.
Ialong villagers carried out the bull sacrifice as a token of gratitude to god U lei Sohpetbneng for ridding the village of plague and other evils.

The sacrifice began with the prayer ka nguh ka dem performed at the residence of the priest of the Raij Ialong "Langdoh" in the presence of the nine chieftains of the Raij "khynde wasan."

After the invocation, the sacrificial bull, black and spotless, was taken to the sacred grove by people, shouting risa and kynhoi all through the way.

Near the sacred grove; on a hill lock known as Lum Sohpetbneng, the bull was tied with a rope made of bamboo to a tree that was meant to serve as an altar, where similar sacrifices have been performed since time immemorial.

The Langdoh u Kyrmen Langdoh performed another prayer and invocation in the presence of Kni Langdoh u ma Mon Langdoh and nine chieftains of the different clans. After chanting ka niam ka khot, the Sangot ma Dikir Pale drew a circle in front of the left foot of the bull, which was supposed to act as a target for the archer. With the Kni Langdoh sprinkling divine water and rice on the black bull, the "Tymmen Phawa" shot an arrow at the bull from his bow. The archer hit the centre of the circle and the animal was then beaten till it collapsed. The bull was cut on the neck. The head severed from the animal's body was put on the branch of the tree on which the altar was erected.

The body of the bull was next taken to an adjacent area to be cut into pieces and cooked. The delicate parts were cooked first and served to the leaders of the Raij. This practice is known as Bam Kynchi. Only men, who are free from vices, including yait thiah, i.e., and have not slept with their wives for three consecutive nights, have the right to partake in the Bam Kynchi.

What is unique about this religious ritual is that the sacrificial animal is not the usual rooster or goat or pig but a bull. By tradition, the Pnars in Jaintia Hills only sacrifice animals such as rooster, goat and pig. People seldom use bull for sacrifice.

The last time the sacrifice was performed was in the year 1987.

Talking about how the unique practice of bull sacrifice began, Ma Boimi Mulieh secretary Kyntu Niamtre of Sein Raij Ialong said as per oral tradition handed down from generation to generation, Ialong village was hit by a plague that had almost wiped away the entire village. Villagers, who had the resources and energy to run away from the village, did so and those remaining in the village were too sick to do anything but pray.

They prayed to their gods known as ki 30 Ryngkaw, who dwelled around the village and were their sole protectors from invaders and evil-doers and even diseases. The Ryngkaw were unable to help the villagers, making them seek the help of U 'lei Sohpetbneng, one of the gods of the khynriam (Khasi pantheon of gods). U 'lei Sohpetbneng came to their rescue and saved the village from the plague. Since then the people of Ialong village have been performing this sacrifice as a token of thankfulness to U 'lei Sohpetbneng.

In the tradition of the Pnars in Jaintia Hills, cow is highly revered although they do not go to the extent of worshiping it like the Hindus. Among the Pnars who still follow the traditional religion -- the Niamtre, slaughter of cow is prohibited and partake of its meat is a taboo. People seldom eat beef and if one consumes beef deliberately or by accident, it is believed that evil will befall oneself or one's kith and kin. The taboo against consuming beef is a unique tradition followed by the khon ka (children) of the niamtre in all the raij and elakas of the district.

The Bull Sacrifice is one unique tradition among the Pnar people of Jaintia hills.

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